White Magic!

Victoria plum blossom
Our Victoria plum tree is the one tree that gives us fruit in autumn!

This is the month that is make or break for our annual plum harvest! Each of the beautiful white flowers will transform into a Victoria plum by September. But only if the frosts are not so harsh as to destroy the flowers now. We are having frosts most nights at the moment, but not cold enough to damage the blossom … yet!

plum jam
The golden fruit of the Victoria plum tree in our garden

The plums, when they are fully formed are delicious and golden – and we have to share them with the insects and the birds – we all enjoy them ;o)

Morning mist across the howe

mist morning turbine
The sun lights up the wind turbine as the mist lifts

Yesterday morning brought the most glorious sunrise. We’ve had several misty starts recently, but not one where the sun broke through so early. I grabbed a camera at 6.30 a.m. and went out to catch the ever-changing scene as the sun and the mist danced together and wove such magical patterns before my eyes and lens!
Here the huge turbines across the howe (valley) were slowly revealed as the mist rose – catching the metal with the light! Two minutes later the turbines had vanished again!

tree silhouette
The mist hides everything except the lonely bird in the tree

A few minutes before, and the sun was just changing the colour of the mist from grey to gold. And here it caught the ‘early bird’ waiting to catch the proverbial worm! Nothing of the view down the howe towards the Kirk was visible – just the tree and its lone occupant!

Talking Digital Photography has all my articles on and about photography
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© 2020 Elisa Liddell

The invisible boundaries!

The gate
The invisible boundary is our gate, though there are occasions when I step across the road!

Lock Down! We’ve been this way for most of March and the whole of April. Our driveway never had a gate, just the gateposts and a low boundary wall. This morning the misty start to the day had me out with my camera before anyone else was stirring!
As the sun came up and the mist dispersed it caught the last flowers on the ornamental plum tree by the gate. Just the kind of morning when we would usually pack the car with cameras and head up the coast to shoot the headlands and the bays of Aberdeenshire. Or maybe drive inland to wander round the walled gardens of Leith Hall, before a fish and chip lunch!
Dream on! It will be a long time before what we took for granted, and counted as ‘normal’ will return. But we do have a quiet village, a good garden, and such lovely views, especially when the sun shines ;o)

As far as I get!

Japanese plum
a sprig of the ornamental plum tree by the gate

Self-isolating now for most of March, with only about 4 trips out to exercise or shop! So photographing the plum blossom in the garden is as far as I go most days!
Today it was blowing a gale – it often is this year. So I brought a spring indoors to capture its delicate beauty!

February 2020 comes alive!

February on Flickr
February still seemed quite normal…. though we were becoming concerned!

I haven’t been able to keep up with my Blog posts as I hoped back in January. So I am using my “2020 Vision” journal pages in the Notebook section of Inedita to catch up and keep a record of what I’ve been doing – mainly photographic though not exclusively!

2020 Vision

ribbons glass 2020
Welcome to 2020 Vision

I’ve been writing a whole lot on Talking Digital Photography but I’ve been letting the blog posts slide. So I’m starting the new year with an effort to keep the Blog posts active as well. My latest additions are on:
Zen Camera – exploring the ideas that the book has inspired.
Notebooks section – A section for photography-related but more general personal ‘stuff’ that interests me and my camera.
2020 Vision – moving my journal online with photos I don’t use on Flickr or elsewhere.

Zen Camera 2

Tai Chi practice
Tai Chi practice, a moving meditation to still the mind

An Open Mind

There’s a definite link here from the Daily Practice of shooting anything that catches your eye. Something catches your eye? Take a shot. Don’t stop to think, just snap it. This is moving towards the Zen state of the uncluttered mind. It is called Mushin in Zen meditation. But you don’t need to be someone who meditates regularly in order to get the most out of this book and these ideas. There are other ways get into a state of mind that will enhance your photography.

Escape the tyranny of the ‘urgent’
We have all experienced the sense of overload that modern living brings. So many things vying for our attention – sounds, images, mental To-Do lists, emails, TV and radio. Add to that the constant pull of social media and keeping up with the news, our friends, the latest video to go viral. The stream of interference is like constant chatter in our ears and eyes – and into our brains. Turn off your mobile phone, turn off the Wi-Fi and there is an uneasy sense that you are isolated, cut-off from the world. According to researchers we are spending more and more time living through a computer screen (whatever the screen size) and that means less and less time to encounter the real world around us.

The Quiet Mind
If we want to photograph the real world around us, we need to spend more time in it – and nowadays that means taking conscious steps to interrupt our normal crowded ‘noisy’ lives – to turn it off so we can see clearly and with fresh eyes. We need to be alone, not just physically alone, but away from the intrusion of the everyday world. We need a quiet mind that can allow us to live in the moment, and see, hear, smell, touch and enjoy what is all around us. It is the kind of stillness and peace that allows us to see clearly and simply through the lens, and without the lens.

And that might mean that we spend a whole lot of time just ‘being’ in the place we want to photograph. Just sitting and looking, relaxing and breathing, can be as valuable as the time spent shooting. So many photographs say little except ‘I was here’. But there is so much more to say. We can begin to discover our own ‘voice’, our own ‘eye’ – by developing an ‘open mind’ and the subtle exchange an open mind allows, between the photographer and the photographed. That is what makes wonderful photographs!

Artists know that what they paint reveals as much about themselves as about the subject. Photography is no different – it is about you as much as about what you are shooting! [This theme of looking inwards and looking outwards is followed in the section called Mirrors and Windows (link) ]

But first let’s follow up on the quest for the quiet, open mind. There’s a lot of talk of ‘mindfulness’ online, with guided meditations to follow. It is the latest descriptive way pointing to the ancient quest for Mushin, ‘no mind’, as Zen Buddhism describes the perfect stilling of the busy minds we all have. There are many ways to help you move towards the ‘quiet mind’ – my own favourite is Tai Chi, which is a moving meditation focusing both body and mind on the slow, ritual movements of the ‘Form’. The little figurine at the top of this page is performing Tai Chi. Other senses are used in other meditative rituals: incense, bells and chanting a mantra. Many systems use beads both to count and to focus the attention.

A Japanese prayer bell
A Japanese prayer bell. So many meditations use sound, and especially the sounds of bells.

To incorporate a regular system into your daily life is immeasurably positive in all manner of ways … but if that is not possible there are other ways that the quiet mind can be encouraged by the photographer ….

reflections and the breeze
Just looking and listening as the breeze ruffles the water and laps against the rocks

Sound is an important element.
Sitting or walking by water is powerful. The gentle sound of waves lapping against the seashore or lake-shore, breaking against the rocks – a rhythmic sound that is close to a mantra. And a beautiful place to capture with your camera too.
Or the wind rustling through the leaves of tall trees, a gentle, rhythmic sound again.

setting sun at Banff
Watching the sun setting at Banff Bay, and hearing only the natural sounds of sea, wind and sea birds.

Sight is another sense that can stimulate the calm we seek.
Watching a sunset. It takes time and stillness to just sit and watch the progress of the light as the sun moves towards the horizon. Just sitting and absorbing the slow changes … not photographing, but just becoming part of the experience. Clouds can offer the same slow and gentle, absorbing experience as they move across the sky. Lying on the grass, and watching the stately movement of clouds can still the mind and clear it of the ‘noise’ of everyday life.

The sun on my Zen garden
Still and white-topped, covered in snow, it ‘speaks’ visually

And this leads into the next section. Most of the ‘noise’ that is in our heads is words, we think in words, so much of the ‘chatter’ is us talking to ourselves, and what we want to achieve is to see. To paraphrase the song – “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” – for the photographer it might read – “I can see clearly now the words have gone”.
So, on to “Show – Don’t Tell”
Back to the Zen Camera cover page

Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

Zen Camera

Zen Camera book cover
Zen Camera – the book cover that first caught my eye

Recently this book caught my eye. Well, it was the title that caught my eye first, as anything ‘Zen’ always draws me! And then it was the book cover, with a long-exposure shot of the seashore and the sky in black and white – elegant, uncluttered, with a Zen feel to it. I was curious to find out more!

Disclaimer: I am not advertising this book. I don’t know the author or the publishers. My interest is purely in my own interaction with the text and the enjoyment and illumination I have gleaned from reading it and following the exercises, albeit in my own way!

I’ve been seriously engaged with my camera(s) for 7 years now, and I am always on the lookout for ways to refresh my photography, to quite literally keep my photography ‘fresh’. Usually I collect books centred on the work of famous photographers, past and present, or on a specific area of technique – but this promised something rather different. Book shopping for me has to be online, as I live a little too remotely to access a bookshop – so I read online reviews and decided to take the chance, and bought it. Not a Kindle version, but the real thing, as I do still love the physical experience of a book – and this one looked like the design and physical layout might be rather special, and an experience not to be missed!

I have not been disappointed. More than a month on and I am still revelling in the first two ‘lessons’, reading and re-reading, and engaging with the text and the exercises that round off each lesson. There is so much to enjoy, to think about and ponder, so I decided to write about it all as I go along. My division of topics here will follow the six lessons of the book, but picking out parts that resonate especially for me.

1) Daily Practice I expected to skip these first steps that are designed to get the reader into the habit of using the camera every day, regularly, to snap everything that catches his/her eye. To start seeing as a ‘photographer’. I do something similar already – but I was surprised when I took a trip down memory lane!

2) An Open Mind Getting into the ‘zone’ – the right frame of mind for the ‘magic’ to work. For me this is the centre of the refreshing experience I want to find through the book. Mushin is the Japanese name for the state where the mind is calm, uncluttered, no distractions, no rush.

3) Show – Don’t Tell Learning the language of photography. This set me pondering the wider implications of the question – why don’t we teach our children visual literacy? We teach them verbal literacy – to speak, read and write. But where is the teaching of how to see?

Back to Basics Section.
A look at Ulrich’s 5 basic elements that together give us the visual photography ‘tools’ we use every day. He divides it into: The Frame – The Light – The moment – Colour and tonality – Treatment of the subject.
Sounds easy and straightforward! But the elements are all interlocking, and each covers a whole lot more than you think!
So I’ll still use Ulrich’s division – just separating out one more element, Composition, to look at in depth. And to make it easier to navigate through the elements I’ll split them into 1 or 2 elements per page, then link on to more in-depth pages. That way you can take a quick look, and move on – or click through and go a bit deeper. So:

4) Back to Basics 1 – This covers The Frame and Composition. Just a few thoughts on both, and how I think of them and use them myself. Then there are extra pages that delve a little deeper into these two areas:
a) The Frame – and how to use it
b) Composition – and some thoughts on shooting trees and ‘still life’
c) Negative Space – some more thoughts on composition

5) Back to Basics 2 – This covers The Light. Light is the absolute basis of seeing, and the absolute heart of photography! A few thoughts on this essential subject, and looking a little deeper into some interesting areas:
a) Shooting with natural light
b) Shooting with artificial light
c) Mixing natural and artificial light sources
d) The elusive Bokeh and lens flare

Back to Basics 3 and beyond (still to come)
d) The Moment
e) Colour and tonality
f) Treatment of the subject

Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2019 Elisa Liddell